Hope and Optimism Reign

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changing seasonsTHUNDER BAY – While some people feel that the changing of the seasons is the only major change in Thunder Bay, the facts are that our entire community is in a massive evolution of change. Across the Thunder Bay Region we are becoming a completely new, far more positive, and far more energetic place. It is part of what we have described as “The Emerging Thunder Bay ” and now the “Emerging Thunder Bay District”.

You can sense the change is coming even faster.

There is a new President at Lakehead University who is charting new directions, including an expanded base of international students, and embracing the growing Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal community.

Bringing a larger international student base to Lakehead University will bring needed new youth and energy to our community. This will tie in well with the Northwestern Ontario Immigration Portal. That portal seeks to attract new immigrants to our region.

Just as previous economic prosperity in our district has been fuelled by immigration, so too will the next major booms in our region.

That the Lakehead University President is seeing that and already making it a priority is a very good sign. It is one that with the kind of vision that makes everything possible.

While some look toward the “comfort zone” of forestry, the reality is that while it is likely that forestry will remain a part of our economy in Northwestern Ontario, the forest industry’s reign as our economic king is over.

Some see mining as the next major boom. It may well be, but moving Northwestern Ontario fully past its past as a primary resource region, also means taking new directions.

Right now the key to our future is planning for the next fifty or more years. It won’t be easy, charting a way forward today as technology speeds up is going to take a big picture look at the scene.

One of the major keys to success will be via education.

Confederation College and Lakehead University are going to be key economic catalysts toward sparking change throughout the district and region. It will be the graduates of Confederation College and Lakehead University who will chart the future in the decisions they make and the directions they take.

Education fuels choices for those who focus on their studies. One area that will be critical will be in raising the high school graduation rates for Aboriginal youth. According to the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada, “Aboriginal Canadians have the lowest high school completion rate of any demographic group in Canada, and recent Aboriginal high school graduates are 23 percent less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to go on to postsecondary education within two years after high school graduation. Aboriginal youth are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, there are more than 460,000 Aboriginal youth under the age of 20”.

Boosting those graduation rates are going to take innovation, and new approaches. Approaches it already appears are starting to happen in Thunder Bay.

Another of the other keys is found in the access to knowledge, information and news. In mere nano-seconds, information flows from computer to computer. It is a massive change for our region.

Consider that only 150 years ago, to get a letter from Fort William to Great Britain and then get an answer might have taken up to two years. Today, an email, or telephone call is instantaneous.

Building a really effective communications network is a key to our region’s future. The videos, short films, training videos, documentary films, and movies are a powerful medium that will build our future.

The opportunities are virtually limitless; all it will take is the vision to put the funding together, and support to make it happen. This partnership will require the CEDC, the City, the province and the film community.

It is why right now Thunder Bay, through the Community Economic Development Corporation should be working hard to boost the scale, and scope of Thunder Bay’s film community.

That may require the CEDC Board to move outside of its comfort zone of traditional economic drivers, but that is really what their task is. While Sudbury is currently reaping millions of dollars in government funding for its film community, Thunder Bay is lagging behind.

It is a direction that must stop. It is an area where Michael Gravelle, as Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry and Chair of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund should be working harder to change.

Thunder Bay must boldly move forward and seek for the next economic realities that will fuel our future prosperity.

The keys are there, the possibilities are there, and there is hopeful optimism that this time we will move forward and get it right.

James Murray

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